Mount Allison University: Maclean's 1995 Rankings
Tradition. It pervades 156-year-old Mount Allison University, with its sandstone buildings, tree-lined campus in tiny Sackville, N.B., and lengthy list of Rhodes Scholars and illustrious graduates. What, then, to make of Curtis Donnahee, 23, a fourth-year bachelor of fine arts student from Ellershouse, N.S.? Some time in the next few months, he plans to spend a seven-hour day in the university's 100-year-old Owens Art Gallery, walking hamster-like inside a suspended eight-foot steel wheel that will power a small music box that plays the 1970s pop tune You Light Up My Life. And Donnahee - who wants to capture the lot of working people with his project - will do the whole thing buck naked.
Remaining grounded in the best of the past while embracing the new and innovative are the hallmarks of Mount Allison. That helps to explain why the university has topped the list of Primarily Undergraduate institutions in the past three Maclean's university rankings. Make no mistake, Mount Allison is not a hotbed of alternative thought and teaching. While other schools have expanded and moved into newer, more fashionable disciplines, it has resolutely stayed small, holding close to its undergraduate liberal arts and science foundation and its commitment to developing the overall student. "Our graduates are successful," says president Ian Newbould, "because we ensure an intellectual and social development that makes them fit for life." All the same, Mount Allison, in its way, is on the cutting edge.
Having money helps. It took three years of painful cutbacks to retire the $10-million debt Newbould inherited when he became president in 1991. In the process, he weathered two nasty strikes and a revolt earlier this year over his reappointment as president. But the cost-cutting has freed Mount Allison to spend $20 million to spruce up buildings and facilities and to wire every residence room and office on campus into the Internet.
Having its financial house in order means the university's first-rate academic reputation remains uncompromised. "I was looking for a place where I was not going to be ignored or overwhelmed," says Marla Bain, 19, a second-year bachelor of fine arts student from Yarmouth, N.S. While many other universities choose not to fill teaching vacancies, Mount Allison has actually made 48 academic appointments since July, 1992, many of them younger professors with new thoughts and perspectives.
The university's adherence to timeless academic principles has paid off in an impressive list of alumni. Among its graduates: artists Mary and Christopher Pratt, P.E.I. Premier Catherine Callbeck, and Purdy Crawford, chairman of Imasco Ltd., which owns, among other things, Imperial Tobacco Ltd. and Shopper's Drug Mart. And with first-year students entering Mount Allison with an average high-school grade of 84.8 per cent, the university will likely continue to make its mark on the larger world.
David Sharpe, a fourth-year music and education student from Milton, Ont., is among those who proudly carry the banner. The 20-year-old, who spends three hours a day practising piano, won the 1995 Young Artist Competition for Atlantic Canada and completed a series of recitals in eight cities in Atlantic Canada. Yet he finds time to be a student representative on the university senate, to play on the varsity badminton team - and even to take part in intramural hockey, where he recently banged up one of his fingers. "My mother, who is a music teacher and also went to Mount A., wants me to quit hockey," he says sheepishly. But at Mount Allison, no one thinks it unusual that a student can play Chopin as well as left wing. In fact, it is almost expected.
Maclean's November 20, 1995